University Progam Aims to Increase Diversity in Clinical Trials
New York's Upstate Medical University has created what officials say is the first position "devoted entirely to making clinical trials on new drugs or treatments" more ethnically diverse, the Syracuse Post-Standard reports. As director of Diversity Enhancement in Clinical Research, Floyd Brown will recruit minorities for participation in studies. Upstate's vice provost for research, John Lucas, said the university wants to examine why certain ethnic groups are more prone to cancer and other diseases, saying, "The genetic component in most cancers is pretty small. ... I think a lot of it will turn out to be socioeconomic status and how frequently people get medical care." The November issue of the American Journal of Public Health reported that African Americans are more likely to die from cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver than whites, and that the "gap" in death rates between the two populations is larger today than in 1950.
Additionally, a recent Institute of Medicine report found that the National Cancer Institute reserved less than 1% of its 1997 budget to study cancer among minorities, despite a disproportionately high rate of cancer among those minorities. A federal law passed in 1993 dictates that any government-sponsored study must include racial and ethnic minorities, and federal officials have urged drug makers and researchers to include more minorities in clinical trials. But Brown says many minorities are reluctant to sign up for trials, something that may be traced to the Tuskegee Experiment, in which African-American men with syphilis were studied but not treated. To alleviate this distrust, Brown said he will likely turn to African-American churches for help. Brown is also interested in exploring the "impact of conversations" between minorities and the doctors treating them, saying that class consciousness may create a barrier to minority enrollment in trials. "People in medicine are pretty much a reflection of people in the larger society," Brown said, adding, "So a person wearing a suit and tie will likely receive a different reception than someone who can't afford to buy a suit and tie" (Gleaves-Hirsch, Syracuse Post-Standard, 12/11).